The UK Television Landscape Report

The bigger picture

17 January 2017

We are definitely in an age where good things come in small packages. In the world of consumer electronics, Moore’s Law has seen computer components continue to halve in size while their processing power doubles. But as much as consumers have continued to revel in household appliances decreasing in size, there is one area where they buck this trend: the world of television.

Some 90 years have passed since John Logie Baird demonstrated his new invention to transmit moving images. Since then there has been an evolution verging on revolution in how the TV set is positioned within the home. From self-contained units, hidden away from prying eyes within their own cabinets, to today, where the TV set takes pride of place in the sitting room. Is it any wonder then that the TV set itself has continued to grow in size and stature?

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The above chart illustrates that there is no denying the desire in UK households for ever bigger screens and ever more immersive television experiences. More than half of all households have a TV set that is 40 inches or bigger, in fact, nearly 13% of households now have a screen at least 50 inches. This might beg the question, is there a limit to how big screens may become?

This in part has been driven by developments in definition and pixel rates in screens, first with the move to 1080 and then Ultra HD. The recent CES 2017 previewed the latest range of Ultra HD sets from the major manufacturers, boasting proprietary technologies like ‘Nano Cell’ and ‘Quantum Dot’. These claim to offer new levels of clarity, colour and brightness.

It is already clear to see from the Establishment Survey how much Ultra HD TV sets are accepted, with 2.1m households now claiming to have an Ultra HD TV set. And with around 10m new TV sets sold nationally each year – many of which will be Ultra HD ready- we can expect this figure to grow even further.

Room for improvement?

We know screen sizes are increasing and it is perhaps not surprising that it is the main living room where screens are the largest. After all, 85% of all TV viewing occurs in the main living room.

But it is not just the main living room where we see sizes increase. Across the board, as main sets are swapped out for new (larger) ones, a ripple effect moves through the home, with secondary sets being replaced with the now legacy main set. In the first quarter of 2012, around 26% of all adult bedroom sets were larger than 30 inches, now in quarter 3 of 2016, that has risen to 49%.

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(An interactive chart is available here.)

Paying attention

As individuals, the UK want bigger and better TV sets, the Establishment Survey identifies this. Big is best. But what is the drive for these ever-larger screens? When George Mallory was asked his reason for what would be his ill-fated attempt to climb Everest he responded, “Because it’s there”.

Are UK consumers buying the bigger and better screen simply because they’re available and they can? Or are there other reasons, qualitative, that are pushing households to upgrade their televisions for more immersive experiences?

New distribution techniques and advancements in platform technology mean that UK households can, and are now able to, watch their favourite programmes and channels in even greater detail and quality. As platforms, both BT and Sky now have special Ultra HD services for their subscribers. In addition, SVOD services also offer Ultra HD quality streaming for those willing to pay for it. This is in addition to their comprehensive HD quality streaming and channel line ups.

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The chart above identifies how those who pay for their TV services are far more likely to have a larger screen on which to watch the channels and programmes they subscribe to. Although around 27% of all UK households subscribe to SVOD services, for those households with a screen size at least 40 inches, this rises to 36%. Furthermore, of all households with a 4K TV set, 72% are pay-TV subscribers, suggesting the platform provider has a strong influence in helping to drive the move to higher definition screens.

It’s good to share

Alongside radio, the television set offers an opportunity to share the media experience like few others. In the UK, nearly 50% of all television viewing is shared with more than one person viewing. It is little wonder then that screen size increases with the number of people living in the household, augmenting the sharing experience of watching your favourite programme together with your family or friends.

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Compared to all households, where 53% have a TV set with a screen size of at least 40 inches, for households with children this raises to 70%. There is only one way to watch Peppa Pig it seems, and that’s on a large screen.

The North-South divide

The UK is a culmination of different regions and nations and much like with TV viewing itself, there appears to be a divide across the UK in terms of screen size.

By and large, as you move up through northern England and into Scotland and Northern Ireland, screen sizes tend to increase. The North East has the largest penetration of large screens, followed by Northern Ireland, with 63% and 57% of households respectively having a screen at least 40 inches big.

London and the South East of England lag far behind, with only 52% and 51% respectively having larger screen sizes.

Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2012, Royal Mail data © Royal Mail copyright and database right 2012, National Statistics data © Crown copyright and database right 2012, Postal Boundaries © GeoLytix 2012 copyright and database right 2012

Overall, the Establishment Survey has identified a continued trend towards households acquiring new, larger TV sets. The Survey is also starting to tell us more about who live in these households and how it is affecting their home.

As these sizes continue to increase, it is clear the TV set will dominate and develop our living room experience for years to come. As Joey from Friends would say, without a TV “what’s all your furniture pointed at?”